Politics: January 2010 Archives

Douthat on Hume and Woods

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Ross Douthat's excellent take on the over-reaction to Brit Hume's altar call:

The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume's remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines -- explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.

When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe's religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.

If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher -- including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both -- who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?

It's reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it's the most important one there is.

There is a tension here between religious tolerance and religious dialogue. Believers of all faiths who aspire to any kind of orthodoxy are often scolded that they need to be more tolerant of other religions. Simultaneously, believers and non-believers alike see the need for and value of religious dialogue. Yet when Hume suggests in about the gentlest way possible that Jesus Christ, whom Hume presumably holds to be Lord and Savior of all men, might offer one particular man some answers, heads start exploding.

You can argue that Hume is wrong on the question of Buddhism's teachings, but to scold him for bringing it up is to mock the concept of dialogue. To see how rational this is, I'll only point out that people who riot and kill when the pope quotes Byzantine emperors also mock the concept of dialogue.

The other argument that could be made is that an individual's personal faith, as opposed to religion in general, is something so intensely private that we shouldn't discuss it in public. This is clearly absurd, as is evidenced by the fact that Mark Sanford's intensely private beliefs sure seemed to be legitimate public fodder last year. It's also a bit of a laugher since the media have no problem discussing Woods' sexual life, trotting out his mistresses, publishing his text messages, speculating about his marriage, psychoanalyzing him from every conceivable angle and offering dimestore advice over how to handle the P.R. disaster, maintain his focus on his career and save his marriage. All this, and yet a bit of spiritual advice is outside the bounds of acceptable discourse.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Politics category from January 2010.

Politics: May 2009 is the previous archive.

Politics: March 2010 is the next archive.

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